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10 reasons to plant this fall

Fall planting offers many advantages over waiting for spring. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 2
Roots make new growth in fall giving a head start to next spring. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

If we could identify gardening's golden age, what period in history would it be? The installation of the palace gardens at Versailles centuries ago? Or maybe the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar? No, it's today's gardens. Heck, they didn't even have Wave Petunias back then.

We're living in an unprecedented age of plant availability. There's a never-before-heard-of quantity of new plant varieties that we can plant throughout the growing season.

In the old days of bare-root trees and shrubs, planting was confined to spring and possibly fall.

The invention of the plastic nursery pot allowed garden centers to grow and maintain an inventory of trees, shrubs and perennials through the season, giving gardeners excellent choices even for late-season planting.

Here are 10 reasons for planting this fall, rather than delaying until next spring.

1. Plants get a major head start.

When trees, shrubs and perennials are fall-planted, the roots continue growing even though the tops don't. Because they needn't provide for a flush of new top growth, the root system becomes extra robust, greatly enhancing next spring's overall growth. Plant early enough in September through early October to give roots time to establish before soil temperatures drop to 40 degrees.

2. Fall is usually less hectic than spring.

Although there's plenty on the fall to-do list, planting can be more leisurely than spring's quick pace.

3. Garden centers are typically less busy in fall.

Shoppers might find it easier to browse, and employees can devote extra attention to each customer.

4. Watering is easier.

Cooler temperatures and fall rains ease the task of keeping new plantings watered.

5. Garden centers sometimes hold fall promotions.

Retailers might feature certain plants, such as perennials that are best planted in the fall like peonies and iris.

6. Nursery stock can be a better value in fall.

We don't need a mark-down sale to get more for our money. Potted trees, shrubs and perennials that have grown in a garden center all season have a root system and plant structure that is better established than it was in spring, usually with the same price tag. That's like getting a plant upgrade for the same money.

7. Don't worry about looks.

Plants in late summer aren't always picture-perfect. They're readying themselves for fall, and a bit of yellowing, changing leaf color or less-than-perfect foliage isn't a problem — it's normal.

8. Don't wait for clearance sales.

Garden centers often carry unsold stock through the winter rather than selling at closeout prices.

9. Guarantees aren't necessary.

I'm not a fan of plant guarantees because there are too many variables beyond a garden center's control. None of us can give a one-year, 100 percent money-back guarantee on our own one-year survival, let alone a plant's.

10. Fall planting is highly successful.

Nearly all research universities promote fall planting because it works. As extra insurance for perennials, it's wise to mulch them with 12 inches of leaves or wood chips to protect against the great unknown of the first winter.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at

He also blogs at " target="_blank">